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Nov 20, 2008

Donovan finally ready for the challenge of Europe

Landon Donovan has stated over and over in recent weeks that he feels he is ready for another run at European soccer. Now, it appears, the U.S. national team star is on his way to getting that chance.

With a short loan deal to Bayern Munich in the works, Donovan is poised to have his third, and potentially final, chance to prove that his national team and MLS success can translate in the highly competitive world of top-flight European soccer.

Donovan will be buoyed by the support of Bayern Munich coach Juergen Klinsmann, who orchestrated Donovan's current training stint in Germany and will play a key role in Donovan's potential move to the German champions.

"He is a unbelievably fast player, who really seeks one-on-one situations," Klinsmann told the Bayern Munich Web site. "He is a completely different type of striker than what we have already."

In an interview with ESPN's Press Pass, Klinsmann revealed his long-standing admiration for the U.S. national team's all-time leading goal scorer, and said he believes Donovan is in the right moment in his career to succeed in Europe.

"I've had the pleasure to see him throughout the years living in Los Angeles, and I've always said to friends of mine [that] he could make it in Europe," Klinsmann said of Donovan. "It's more a mental thing than it is a football thing.

"Now [Donovan] comes in as a mature player, as captain of the U.S. national team, as a World Cup player," Klinsmann said. "He's a far more confident player. He has the physical capabilities, he has the technical capabilities, and at the end of the day it's like any other sport. It's a mind game. Are you really confident enough? Are you a fighter? Are you a warrior? Are you hungry enough inside?

"I think he brings all those things, and it's going to be interesting to see in the next couple of weeks how he's going to decide his future."

While Donovan has made no secret of his desire to make a move to Europe now, it will still be up to Major League Soccer and the Los Angeles Galaxy to determine whether the time is right for Donovan to leave. Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena has already stated that he wants Donovan back in 2009, but a short loan move to Bayern Munich could give the Galaxy striker a chance to impress Bayern enough to make MLS and Los Angeles an offer they can't refuse.

Not every observer is convinced that a move to Germany would be in Donovan's best interests.

"He's a great player, he's a goal scorer, he makes goals, he can definitely play in Europe," said New England coach Steve Nicol in an interview with Press Pass. "I'm just not so sure Germany is the place for him. He's tried it twice already and it hasn't worked, I'm a bit surprised he's going there for a third time."

The real question is whether Bayern Munich is prepared to make a sizable bid for a player who has failed to stick in Germany in two previous stints with Bayer Leverkusen. Klinsmann doesn't believe Donovan's past German stints are a factor, and if anything, his change in attitude now is proof that his mentality has changed since he left Bayer Leverkusen for MLS before the 2005 season.

"He saw how tough it is, how competitive professional soccer is in this country, or in Europe in general, and he felt like 'I'm not up to this. I'll go back to the United States,'" Klinsmann said of Donovan's last stint with Leverkusen. "He grew and he matured year by year, and now he's in the moment where he proved himself on the international stage in the World Cup and other competitions. He feels ready. He feels ready to show people in Europe about his qualities and the impact he could have."

With Donovan's attitude toward a European move changing quite dramatically in the past year, from "I'm happy in MLS" to "I want to go to Europe and believe I can play well there," it seems as though it is just a matter of time before he leaves. While it might not be in the best interests of the Galaxy to let him leave, it is becoming tougher and tougher to deny that Donovan is ready for new challenges that MLS cannot provide him.

Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.

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